Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Minneapolis Institute of Art acquires breathtaking Japanese textiles

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has acquired an exceptional collection of Japanese textiles. The rare and beautiful handmade Japanese garments were assembled by researcher and Asian art collector Thomas Murray over the course of 40 years and were acquired by the museum in a combined purchase and gift.

Murray’s refined taste and depth of knowledge of Japanese textiles has created a collection of superlative condition, quality and breadth. Mia already had very fine collection of Japanese paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics raises but before this acquisition it only had a few textiles — Noh robes from the theater, silk wedding kimono, early 20th century casual kimono made from meisen silk with bold graphic prints. Murray’s collection of 230 pieces elevates the museum’s Japanese textiles holdings from a handful of items to one of the top collections of Japanese clothing in the world.

The collection features traditional Japanese clothing and fabrics made for home, work, and festival celebrations between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. A kaleidoscope of materials and designs, the acquisition includes exceptionally rare, brightly colored bingata and ikat kimonos and wrapping cloths made of wild banana fiber from subtropical Okinawa, delicately patterned Mingei (folk art) costumes and textiles used by farmers and fishermen from Japan’s largest and most populous islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and boldly patterned garments of elm-bark cloth, nettle fiber, and salmon skin created by the aboriginal Ainu people residing on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and formerly found on the Sakhalin island of Siberia. […]

Among the many outstanding textiles in the Murray Collection is an exuberant festival robe decorated with sea creatures and water motifs, used to celebrate a successful fish catch. The robe’s decorations were hand-drawn and painted with a rice paste resist dye technique, tsutsugaki, making this robe one of a kind.

Other important highlights of the collection include Ainu robes which have long been celebrated for their exacting, symmetrical designs revealing the skills and aesthetics of the women who created them. One of these robes is known as a kaparamip, meaning “thin cloth,” because it was made of cotton that was traded from the Japanese mainland. A decorative effect was achieved by using contrasting shades of trade cloth such as indigo that was then overlaid with a white cutout pattern appliqué and accented with red thread in a variety of embroidery stitches.

I asked Andreas Marks, the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, what the biggest challenges were in conserving such a varied collection. He replied:

The biggest challenges in conservation of textiles are the protection from bugs and mold. This is primarily achieved through a sanitized and climate-controlled environment that includes storage in archival boxes. Furthermore, textiles that enter our collection undergo a time period of freezing that would kill any live insects. That way we can prevent bugs from entering. Certain textiles will have to be stored flat and not folded as they are too brittle because of material and/or age.

The Japanese textiles are currently undergoing conservation and will go on full display in the fall of 2020.


Panorama of London 20 feet wide goes on display

Friday, March 15th, 2019

A huge panorama of London as it was at the end of the Napoleonic wars has gone on display at the Museum of London. The watercolour over pencil work was painted by Pierre Prévost in 1815. As huge as this panorama is, it is just a fraction of what it was meant to be. It’s a preparatory study for a panorama more than 100 feet wide. Prévost successfully completed the behemoth, the epitome of his work as a panoramist, but it is now lost.

Panoramas were all the rage starting in the late 18th century. The term was coined by artist Robert Barker in 1787 when he had the idea to create a 360° view of a city in detailed perspective. Viewers would stand in the center of a custom-built rotunda and immerse themselves in the vista of a distant city. Barker built his first rotunda and panorama in 1793 and by 1800 they had taken off like wildfire.

Prévost was one of the premiere artists of the form. His first panorama, View of Paris from the Tuileries, was created in 1799. Many others followed, including views of Amsterdam, Athens and Jerusalem. He went to London to make a panorama of the city in 1802 (also lost), during the brief break in the Napoleonic wars after the Piece of Amiens, and then returned after Waterloo in 1815 to create the view from Westminster Abbey of which this prep is all that remains.

Painted from the bell tower of St Margaret’s church, right next to Westminster Abbey, the view encompasses the Abbey, its graveyard, the Middlesex Guildhall (then only 10 years old), the medieval Houses of Parliament which would be destroyed in a catastrophic fire in 1834, St. James’ Park, the Palace of Whitehall’s Banqueting House, the future Trafalgar Square and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Prévost captures not just London’s architecture, but its lifeblood as well. There are street scenes of people going about their business — carts carrying goods, shops, a factory — and views of the bustling shipping trade on the Thames.

The finished panorama was exhibited in a rotunda in Paris. That the preparatory drawing has survived is remarkable. Highly finished, detailed, scale sketches were necessary to create so enormous a finished painting, but only one other is known from the many panoramas in Prévost’s oeuvre, a view of Constantinople now in the Louvre.

It was recently rediscovered at sold at auction at Sotheby’s on July 4th, 2018, for 250,000 ($330,000). The Museum of London was able to acquire it with the support of the Art Fund, the Aldama Foundation and several private donors. Since then it has been conserved by museum experts and is on display for the first time as of today.

The photograph cannot do this work justice because it’s so much wider than it is high, but thankfully the Museum of London has create a neat video that scrolls over the panorama with key sites labelled.


Campaign secures Neolithic ball for Perth Museum

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

An intricately carved Neolithic stone ball discovered in the Ochil Hills near Sherriffmuir in Perthshire, central Scotland, will stay in its native soil after a fundraising campaign secured it for the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The 4,000-year-old stone was declared Treasure Trove according to Scottish law and allocated to the Perth Museum, but because budget cuts have slashed its acquisitions budget, the museum had to raise money to secure it. The Perthshire Society of Natural Science opened an online crowd-funding campaign and was able to raise £1625 well before the March 26th deadline. A grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions chipped in matching funds.

Stone balls carved in the Late Stone Age (around 3200 – 2500 BC) are a big thing in Scotland. Out of about 530 that have been found in Northern Europe, 520 of them were found in Scotland. More than a third of them are in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. That the Sheriffmuir Ball will remain local is all the more significant because it is one of fewer than 50 of the known Neolithic balls to have decorative carving and it’s a particularly elaborate one. It’s also one of the most southernly balls ever found in Scotland.

Since the first one was discovered 150 years ago, archaeologists have debated what the purpose of the balls might have been. None of them have been found in or near burial, so they were not used as funerary offerings or grave goods. They could have been weapons, tools or status symbols, or perhaps a combination of any of those.

They are roughly the same size and while remaining circular in dimensions, they have been carved to have lobes or knobs. The ones that are decorated have spirals and curved carved into the surface. The Sheriffmuir Ball has a grid pattern on one lobe, five parallel lines on another and an off-center circle on a third.

You can explore it in the 3D model created by National Museums Scotland:


Boston College tackified and neglected mascot is Meiji masterpiece

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

A bronze eagle that spent 90 years exposed to the harshest of elements on a column like an aquiline Simeon Stylites has been found to be a masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period (1868–1912). The 340-pound bronze of an eagle taking flight (or landing) was donated to Boston College in 1954 by Gus Anderson, a gardener who had inherited it from the estate of collectors Larz and Isabel Weld Anderson (no relation) after the latter’s death in 1948. The Andersons had acquired it in Japan during their 1897 honeymoon. They installed it in the Japanese garden of their palatial estate, Weld, in Brookline, Massachusetts, where it remains for five decades. When it moved to Boston College it was again placed outdoors, this time perched atop a 34-foot column in front of Gasson Hall. It was also gilded for some ungodly reason, possibly because the eagle is the mascot of the college’s sports teams and their colors are maroon and gold.

In 1993, a workmen making repairs to Gasson Hall saw from their high viewpoint that the eagle had taken a beating by the severe New England weather. It was removed from the column and disassembled into five component parts. Each of them was used to make a plaster cast from which a replica of the eagle was created. The replica was then put on top of the column and the original boxed up, each part in its own box, and stored in the studio where the casts had been made.

It was broken down and unappreciated for a couple of decades until an artist who had traced its history alerted the college that they actually had something special there.

The university called in the local firm Rika Smith McNally & Associates to conserve the work.

A Meiji attribution was confirmed by an analysis by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The high lead content corresponded with karakane alloys used by Meiji artists to achieve a hallmark fluidity in wavy parallel lines, which are “incredible” around the beak and eyes, says Rika Smith McNally.

“When we got to the pupil, we knew we were dealing with a Japanese Meiji work because the eyeball was made using the shakudo technique,” in which a raised black copper pupil is attached to the centre of a gold-leafed eye, she adds. “It gives a very animated appearance to the eye.”

The eagle, put back together and restored to its original glory, has gone on display at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art in Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America, an exhibition centered around the eagle, its importance as a motif in Japanese art and the fashion for Japanese art in among the wealthy bluebloods of late 19th century Boston. The exhibition runs through June 2nd of this year.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to celebrate the painstaking restoration and research that recently revealed the artistic significance of a virtually lost monumental bronze masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “The exhibition and accompanying scholarly volume contextualize the history of Boston College’s eagle sculpture and the argument for its probable attribution to the circle of master artist Suzuki Chōkichi (1848–1919) with an array of magnificent loans, many of which have never been displayed publicly in New England.”

This video recounting the bird’s journey from ruination to renewal has some breathtaking views of the details of the sculpture. I got a lump in my throat when the conservators removed ever so gently cotton swabbed away that hideous gilding.


Silver gilt cup from Texel shipwreck restored

Monday, March 11th, 2019

A silver gilt cup found in the wreck of 17th century merchant ship in the Wadden Sea near the island of Texel, northern Holland, has been restored and put on display at the Kaap Skil Museum on Texel.

It was one of more than a thousand objects recovered from the wreck site in 2014 after shifting sediment exposed them to the elements. Centuries under layers of silt and sand in the cold waters of the Wadden Sea had preserved organic materials in astounding condition. High-end textiles were found in beautiful condition, including silk stockings, a red velvet pouch embroidered with silver thread, and a silk gown so exquisite that one professor described it as “the Night Watch of the costume world.”

Known as the boxwood wreck, after its cargo of boxwood timbers, or Texel wreck, it was carrying artifacts of such exceptional quality that there was immediate speculation that it might have been transporting members of aristocracy, perhaps even royalty, or at least their stuff. A leather book cover stamped in gold with the coat of arms of King Charles I suggested a Stuart connection and in the initial excitement of the find, the silk gown was identified as having belonged to Jean Kerr, Countess of Roxburghe, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria. That hypothesis was disproved when researchers discovered the dress was made in Northwestern Europe, not England.

The most recent findings of the ongoing study into the wreck, announced at the Rijksmuseum last Thursday when the show cup was unveiled, point to the ship having been a Dutch trade vessel traveling from the Levant and Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. Its cargo attests to its voyages — boxwood trunks, French and Italian pottery, caftans from the Ottoman Empire, a Persian rug,

The silver gilt cup was also made in continental Europe, likely southern Germany. The cities of Nuremberg and Augsburg were known for their silversmiths who produced show cups like this. Unfortunately the seal that would precisely pinpoint the shop where it was made is missing, but the style of the cup dates it to the late 16th century, so at least 50 years before the ship’s last voyage, estimated to have taken place about 1650.

When it was recovered from the water, the metal cup was in worse shape than the fine silk stockings. It was broken into three pieces and and severely dented, coated in heavy black corrosion. Most of the dents were repairable, thankfully, and the thick crust of corrosion was removed. Restorers worked on it for four years to reveal the intricate details of its decoration. It chased and molded with floral motifs, vases and masks. Standing on the lid is a figurine of Mars. He would have originally held a shield, now lost.

The sometime showpiece is now a showpiece once again, on display from March 9th to September 9th at the museum’s exhibition of select objects from the boxwood wreck. The 450-page report on the wreck, Wereldvondsten uit een Hollands schip (World finds from a Dutch ship, according to the always questionable Google Translate) is available for sale at the museum. I couldn’t find it online, much to my disappointment, because I would nerd out all over that.


Raphael’s School of Athens cartoon restored

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio is widely considered the visual embodiment of the rebirth of classical philosophy and art that gave the Renaissance its name. Raphael painted the fresco for the Stanza della Segnatura, the room in the Vatican housing Pope Julius II’s library, between 1509 and 1511. The artist started with a full-scale preparatory cartoon in charcoal, red and white chalk on paper in 1508-9. It was massive, over nine feet high and 26 feet wide, and was made by gluing together 210 pieces of “royal paper” (large format sheets about 12×16 inches in dimension). More than 50 individuals, the great philosophers of antiquity centered around Plato and Aristotle, populate the cartoon, with only a couple of figures from the final fresco missing, including Heraclitus, whose face is said to be a portrait of Michelangelo, then working just down the hall on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is the largest surviving Renaissance cartoon.

Raphael was employed by Pope Julius on the recommendation of Bramante to fresco the room. The commission served a political role as much an aesthetic one. There were already frescoes on the walls by Piero della Francesca, but he had been hired Alexander VI whose papacy was already infamous. Julius was keen to cover the walls with new frescoes that would erase the imprint of his Borgia predecessor, a sort of damnatio memoriae by artistic proxy.

Only 27 years old when he began The School of Athens, Raphael created a vision that transposed the ideas of Renaissance humanist thought into figural and architectural forms. The fluid lines of his initial drawing illuminate his creative process, the apparent ease with which he conceived an intricate mural that would take two years to complete. It’s also the only version of The School of Athens done entirely by Raphael’s own hand. He had staff to help him paint the fresco itself.

He used the cartoon as a literal outline, poking holes (still clearly visible today) through the lines of the faces, garments, folds and bodies. Because the completed cartoon was so massive, it could not be applied smoothly all at once to the plaster surface of the wall and have the trace-over last for two years of painting. Raphael instead used it to show Julius II a clear view of the full complex composition of the fresco and as a master template, drawing through the perforations onto individual papers just large enough to cover one day’s work.

Even so, the cartoon matches the finished fresco almost exactly, with only a few centimeter’s difference on the right side. The architectural design on the top part of the fresco is not on the cartoon, or rather just the foundations of it are, barely visible and only spotted by researchers in 1972. Most of the remarkable vaulted gallery in deep one-point perspective that rises above and behind Plato and Aristotle was painted directly onto the plaster.

Even in Raphael’s all-too-short lifetime (he died at age 37) the cartoon was recognized as a masterpiece in its own right. It was described as the “well-finished cartoon” because the lion’s share of the information necessary for the fresco was included: the figures, the setting, the poses, the facial expressions, the direction of the light, the highlights and lowlights of his chiaroscuro.

That a cartoon as delicate as it is massive survives intact after five centuries of wars, pillage and dispersed cultural patrimony is largely due to Cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564-1631), Archbishop of Milan and founder of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the second public library in Europe after the Bodleian. He was an erudite man, a prolific writer and connoisseur of the arts who amassed an immense collection of 45,000 manuscripts and books with the deliberate intent of creating a library that would be an invaluable resource for scholars.

For a hundred years after its creation, the cartoon disappears from the historical record. It reappears in 1610 in a legal document stating that Fabio II Visconti Borromeo, Count of Brebbia (and holder of two far more excellent titles: Decurion of Milan and Judge of the Streets), loans the cartoon to Cardinal Borromeo until such time as Visconti requests its return. That time never came.

In 1618 the cardinal founded Pinacoteca Ambrosiana to house his great collection of paintings and drawings, including works by Caravaggio (Basket of Fruit) and Leonardo da Vinci (Portrait of a Musician) alongside Raphael’s cartoon, still technically on loan. It became officially part of the Ambrosiana collection in 1626 when the cardinal bought it from the count’s widow Bianca Spinola Borromeo for the then-astronomical sum of 600 imperial lire.

It remained at the Pinacoteca, one of its greatest treasures and biggest draws, until 1796 when the greatest scourge of Italy’s patrimony, Napoleon Bonaparte, entered Milan. Five days after his forces took the city, Napoleon proclaimed that Milan now owed France 15 million lire and any and all artworks of value. Dominique-Vivant Denon, director of the Louvre, was tasked with drawing up a list of Milan’s most important pieces that would be summarily pillaged and sent to the museum in Paris.

On June 25, 1796, box upon box of treasures from the Ambrosiana left Milan destined for the Louvre. Leonardo’s Musician was in them, his notebooks from the library’s collection and Raphael’s The School of Athens cartoon. It was subject to extensive restoration — relined with canvas, mounted on a new frame, missing parts filled in — before being put on display. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the sculptor Antonio Canova was dispatched to the Louvre to reclaim the works taken from the Papal States. While he was at it, he arranged the return of the Ambrosiana’s stuff too. The cartoon was back in Milan by 1816.

It was restored again in 1887. This time the work done was even more extensive. The cartoon was reframed, and most significantly, was attached to a new canvas backing for support. The wars of the 20th century jerked it around some more. In 1915, with northern Italy the target of Austro-Hungarian aerial bombing, the cartoon went back to Rome for first time since it was drawn by Raphael 400 earlier. It was kept safe in the Vatican until the war was over. In 1942 it went underground, secured in the bank vault of the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, and good thing too because the Abrosiana was bombed and had to be rebuilt after the war.

The vicissitudes of the past two centuries left the cartoon worse for wear. The paper had yellowed (browned, even) making the chalk, charcoal and lead drawing hard to read and water damage was pervasive. It had also been mounted in a new frame and showcase in 1966, then state-of-the-art but inadequate for modern conservation techniques which require constant inspection and monitoring.

In 2014, the Ambrosiana launched an ambitious program of conservation and study. A team of experts from the College of Fellows of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration of the Vatican Museums, the Milan Superintendency and the Conservation and Restoration Centre “La Venaria Reale” worked with professors from several Italian universities to preserve the work, reverse old restoration errors and create a new showcase to protect the cartoon while make it entirely visible to visitors.

Both front and back were treated. On a custom table with a moveable bridge that allowed conservators to hover over the surface, the cartoon was cleaned with low pressure micro-suction devices like those used in surgery. Old polymer glue used with strips of canvas in the 1966 restoration to expand the perimeter which had shrunk over time was removed. Conservators also repaired tears and lined the back with layers of Japanese tissue paper in different sizes and shapes to relieve stress on the supports and recover the original flatness of the cartoon. The last step was to apply a new canvas lining and mount the cartoon in a new frame.

Here’s a video of conservators in 2017 removing the first layer of Japanese tissue paper from the back of the cartoon a year after it was applied to stabilize it:

Here’s the conservation team applying canvas lining to the back of the cartoon:

After a year of study and three years of painstaking labour, the cartoon will return to its dedicated exhibition gallery at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana on March 27th.


12th c. triple toilet seat goes on display

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Move over, Vindolanda with your single-ass toilet seat. Medieval London is giving you three times the run for your money. A unique three-seater wooden toilet seat from the 12th century is going on display at the Museum of London Docklands. The rough hewn oak plank was preserved for centuries in the waterlogged environment of the Fleet River, one of the tributaries of the Thames that were “lost” to the development of the London sewage system in the Victorian era. It was unearthed in excavations near Ludgate Hill in the 1980s but the discovery wasn’t announced before because the money ran out before the thousands of artifacts from what was then the largest archaeological dig in London history could be published. (Besides, even experts didn’t appreciate scatological archaeology three decades ago as much as we do now.)

The communal toilet seat was once perched over a cesspit that emptied into the Fleet. It served the needs of people who lived and worked in on what was then a small island. Archaeologists even know its name, amazingly enough.

Remarkably, archaeologists have even been able to identify the owners of the building, which was known at the time as Helle: a capmaker called John de Flete and his wife, Cassandra. “So what I love about this is that we know the names of the people whose bottoms probably sat on it,” said Kate Sumnall, the curator of archaeology for the exhibition.

They would probably have shared the facilities with shopkeepers and potentially other families who lived and worked in the modest tenement block, she said. “This is a really rare survival. We don’t have many of these in existence at all.”

The toilet seat will be part of an exhibition dedicated to London’s lost rivers: Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn, Walbrook and Westbourne. Remains preserved in the loving embrace of the city’s rivers will go on display alongside the seat exemplifying how said rivers were used by Londoners as open sewers before they were diverted into culverts to be used as closed ones today. Bronze Age weapons deposited in the Thames as ritual offerings, a dog collar, animal skulls, discarded porcelain will represent the archaeology of the rivers while photographs, paintings, poems and film represent its history. Secret Rivers runs from May 24th through October 27th. Admittance is free, and just in case seeing the toilet seat isn’t worth the ticket price, a plastic replica will be available for visitors to perch upon. That’s a group selfie opportunity not to be missed.


Rare Brazilian feathered cloak restored, exhibited

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

An extremely rare surviving feathered cloak from the northeast coast of Brazil has been restored and will go on display at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan starting Tuesday, February 26th.

The cloak dates to between the late 16th and early 17th century. Triangular in shape and complete with a small hood that originally was decorated with yellow macaw feathers (now almost entirely lost), it was made by tying feathers to a net woven of cotton. Most of the feathers are bright orange-red plumes from the scarlet ibis. Yellow and blue accents were created with macaw feathers. The materials, cotton and feathers, are so delicate very few feathers cloaks have survived until our time. This is the only one known to have a distinctive geometric pattern on the back, believed to be a stylized line representation of a bird.

The Ambrosiana has held the mantle in its collection for almost its entire life. It was donated by Milanese cleric and collector Manfredo Settala (1600-1680). He was one of the greatest collectors in 17th century Europe, going far beyond the cabinet of curiosities popular among the aristocracy of the period into a full-on museum replete with art, ancient pottery, China, sculpture, exotic animals, fossils, shells, clocks, optical devices, corals, gemstones, minerals, jewelry, foodstuffs (nuts, beans, spices, cacao) skeletons, mummies and just about anything else you can imagine. His collection was so vast that the Bibliteca Ambrosiana was unable to accommodate Settala’s offer to donate it in its entirety because they didn’t have the space.

In a 1666 catalogue of the Settala Gallery, there was a whole chapter dedicated to “Pilgrim Curiosities of Indian Bird Feathers Ingeniously Woven.” The artifacts in this category include several Christian icons made of colored feathers in “Peru” (which may be more of a catch-all term for Spanish America rather than a specific origin), a belt and crown, a sash of Chilean ostrich feathers, another of “Indian crow” feathers “the color of fire.”

The mantle is described as an “Indian priestly vestment of sanguine color, a fiery weaving of many feathers naturally colored. A very remarkable work and worthy of being admired.” Settala had received it as a gift from Prince Federico Landi, scion of a noble family in northern Italy whose princely title had been granted by the Holy Roman Emperor. Landi was a political figure of some importance — he had ties to Philip III of Spain, Duke of Milan — and he and Settala shared an interest in collecting natural (and manufactured) wonders. His connection to the King of Spain likely provided him access to exceptional artifacts from Spain’s colonies. The feathered belt and crown in the Settala Gallery were donated by Prince Landi after Manfredo’s death in his memory.

It’s not labelled so I don’t know for sure, but I believe the mantle, its hood still richly feathered, is hanging on the front right wall in this drawing of the Settala Gallery from the 1666 catalogue:

Settala’s own records identify the “ceremonial mantle” as having been created by the Tupinambá people of Brazil. They record that it was a gift from Prince Landi and note that the the Tupinambá wore these garments during a ceremony depicted in a drawing by Belgian engraver Theodor de Bry in the late 16th century. (De Bry’s works were based on the writings of other people; he never traveled across the Atlantic himself, and there are numerous errors, inconsistencies and scenes more dramatic than factual in his oeuvre.)

Early European accounts of encounters with the Tupinambá published in the second half of the 16th century describe multiple uses of feathers in adornment: boiled chicken feathers used in tattooing, Toucan feathers worn as ear pendants and ostrich feathers strung on cotton thread worn as hip belts.

These accounts often remarked on the Tupinambá people’s reluctance (read: refusal) to wear clothing no matter how hard the colonizers and converters tried. The few indigenous garments the population did enjoy were worn for ceremonial purposes and had nothing like the full coverage the priests were so anxious to instill. Headdresses, cloaks and sashes adorned with the brightly colored feathers of different native birds were highly prized and handled with utmost care to preserve them from wear and tear.

Researchers hypothesize that mantles like this one may have been used by priests during the most important ceremony to the Tupinambá community: a cannibalistic ritual in which the flesh of sacrificed prisoners of wars was consumed to give warriors access to a paradiasical “World without Evil” after death.


Rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, on display

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

An extremely rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted during her lifetime has gone on display at Hever Castle. The oil-on-oak panel painting depicts Mary “en deuil blanc” (in white mourning), wearing gossamer white veils instead of the heavy blacks of full mourning she wore in a later portrait.

It is believed to have been the work of the studio of François Clouet, a miniaturist and portraitist to the French royal family, made in late 1560/early 1561 when Mary was mourning the successive deaths of her father-in-law King Henry II of France (d. July 1559), her mother Mary of Guise (June 1560) and her husband Francis II (December 1560) of France. White had been a popular mourning color in France for centuries by the time Mary donned it. She had unusually bucked that association and worn white for her 1558 wedding to the then-Dauphin of France, only to find herself having to wear white again in its traditional symbolism after his death just two and a half years later.

Another Clouet portrait of her “en deuil blanc” shows her covered from chin to chest in a white pleated gauze “barbe” (beard). The original painting is lost but the image was widely copied. The Hever painting has the same head type as the other Clouet but depicts a less severe white veil with an open collar and tiny buttons down the bust. This may have been a less strict form of mourning worn after a certain amount of time had elapsed from the bereavement.

During her active reign in Scotland from 1561 to 1568, there were few artists of note and even fewer portrait painters of royal quality. If any solo portraits of her were painted during her time in Scotland, none have survived. A double-portrait of her and her second husband Lord Darnley now at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, is the only known extant portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted when she was in Scotland ruling as Queen of Scots, ca. 1565.

After her forced abdication and imprisonment in England, she did get some access to court painters. Her caretaker/keeper/jailer George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, allowed her to sit for Nicholas Hilliard, the premiere miniature portraitist of the Tudor court. Copies of Hilliard’s work were distributed at Mary’s behest to her supporters during her lifetime, and after the ascension of her son James VI of Scotland to the throne of England and Ireland in 1603. He commissioned idealized versions of them to enhance his own position as king and the strength of the Stuart claim by depicting her as a martyr and victim of Tudor injustice. It’s those posthumous images of Mary that make up the bulk of her portraiture.

The Hever portrait was in a private collection in France (not Switzerland) for many years. It was thought to be a modified 17th century copy of the more famous Clouet. Dendrochronological analysis of the oak panels found that the wood dated to 1547. Coupled with stylistic examination, the age of the wood confirms that the portrait dated to the mid-16th century and was done in Mary’s lifetime.


Still life thought to be fake Van Gogh is real

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

A still life painting long thought to be a fake has been authenticated as a genuine work by Vincent van Gogh by experts from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts has been in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco since it was donated by collectors Bruno and Sadie Adriani in 1960. It is unsigned, but an inscription on the back of the painting describes it as “Nature mort, peint par Vincent van Gogh.” Anyone can write anything on the back of a canvas, however, and it doesn’t make it so.

The main sticking point was with the date it was created, which at the time of the donation was believed to be 1884 when Van Gogh was in Nuenen. The coloring was off that period, so experts disputed its authenticity and the painting of two pears and an apple among chestnuts was not included in two of the standard catalogues of the artist’s work and again in a third published in 2013. The Fine Arts Museum mostly chose not to display it, although it has been exhibited for several years at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum

For the past two years, Van Gogh Museum scholars have made a painstaking technical and stylistic investigation into the still life, as well as a thorough search through the historical record.

Specialists at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have now accepted it as authentic. They determined that the canvas and the paints match Van Gogh’s work. Stylistically, it is regarded as fitting in with the still lifes which the artist made in Paris between October and December 1886.

The painting’s provenance can now be traced. There is reference to “pears and chestnuts” in an 1890 inventory, compiled shortly after Van Gogh’s death, with the word “Bernard” added. This is assumed to refer to his friend Emile Bernard. Bernard’s mother sold a work with that title (and the dimensions of the San Francisco picture) to the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1899.

The first husband of Sadie acquired the picture in 1922. Sadie, an American artist, later married Bruno Adriani, a German lawyer and cultural official, and they emigrated to America in the 1930s.

Researchers also found a little surprise lurking underneath the fruits and nuts: the canvas was reused so the still life is actually not just an authentic Van Gogh, but two in one. Infrared reflectography found a portrait underneath the visible painting. It’s of a woman wearing a scarf and was likely made shortly before Van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris.

The freshly authenticated Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts will celebrate its recognition with a trip to Frankfurt this fall. It will be loaned to the Städel Museum for the exhibition Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story which runs from October 23rd until February 16th 2020.

P.S. – I watched At Eternity’s Gate today and thought it was excellent, very evocatively filmed, especially how they shot Vincent-eye-view scenes. Willem Dafoe’s performance was understated and real. I found it so much more genuine and plausible that the than the tortured artist scenery-chewing of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life which bears no relation, imo, to the Vincent of his correspondence.





May 2019
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